The premise of Rodrigo Moreno’s latest film, The Delinquents, is certainly an extravagant and intriguing one. Inspired by Hugo Fregonese’s 1949 crime drama Hardly a Criminal and having recently premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, the film unfolds between Buenos Aires and the Argentinian countryside. The picture is split into two parts of approximate duration and follows two bank clerks called Morán (Daniel Elías) and Román (Esteban Bigliardi). Terrified by the idea of doing the same job for another 20 years, Morán one day decides to steal a large amount of money and then hands himself over to the police, knowing that he will spend three years in prison and then finally be free for life. Meanwhile, Román reluctantly agrees to keep the money hidden until his colleague’s release and tries not to get caught himself.
The main question that Moreno’s crime dramedy explores deals with our idea of freedom, and how work—especially when it comes to repetitive, dead-end jobs—can be a destructive force, capable of pushing people to find “alternative” ways of getting by and leading their lives. The theme is perhaps not the most original, but it’s still timely enough and worth tackling. After all, these are also known as the years of the Great Resignation, which have seen thousands of employees voluntarily resigning from their jobs en masse—a trend that came to prominence in early 2021 following the devastating effects of the pandemic and a general rethinking of our work-life balance.
Therefore, deciding whether to spend three years in jail with the appealing prospect of an early retirement, or being doomed to 20 years sitting at the same desk, surrounded by the same unpleasant colleagues, doesn’t even sound like too crazy a dilemma. It’s also clear, though, that both of our protagonists have very little to lose, as their lives outside of the workplace don’t satisfy them either.
Despite Moreno’s commendable intentions in the creation of two endearing lead characters—Román and Morán are lovably cowardly, clumsy, shy, and totally unfit for their criminal tasks—the film’s final results are quite uneven. Though The Delinquents still boasts a fair amount of effective, humorous scenes, especially those involving the two characters both portrayed by Germán De Silva: Del Toro, Román and Morán’s annoying bank director; and Garrincha, a powerful mobster and one of Morán’s inmates. There’s a minute-long scene in which Del Toro swings around on his rusty office chair, making screeching noises and ridiculing the seriousness the internal investigation following the heist. In another scene, Garrincha explains the origin of his nickname through a bizarre anecdote involving the Pelé and the eponymous Brazilian football player Garrincha.
Deciding whether to spend three years in jail with the appealing prospect of an early retirement, or being doomed to 20 years sitting at the same desk […] doesn’t even sound like too crazy a dilemma.
However, many other scenes end up extending the film’s duration without adding much to the plot and risking disengagement from viewers. The picture starts slowing down as soon as Román visits the countryside in an attempt to hide the money. There, he accidentally meets a group of friends who convince him to join them on their outing. Norma (Margarita Molfino), her sister Morna (Cecilia Rainero), and Morna’s boyfriend Ramon (Javier Zoro)—yes, these are really their names; Moreno seems really obsessed with anagrams—clearly enjoy Román’s company, but there are just too many scenes emphasizing they might become friends for life. In one scene lasting at least five minutes, for instance, the three friends play a word game for too long; in another, a tipsy Ramón embarks on a chaotic speech about the importance of cinema, a clunky meta-cinematic attempt which only helps the film extend its duration of 180 minutes.
The film’s score, courtesy of late masters Astor Piazzolla and Francis Poulenc, gives the whole film an old-fashioned vibe, but its presence is not always that smooth. In some instances, it works beautifully at imbuing scenes with an atmosphere, and acts as a sort of intermezzo wherein events unfolding between one scene and another are revealed. In others, the music is cut off too sharply, chimes in at the wrong moment, or ends up running for too long.
But on a more positive note, Inés Duacastella and Alejo Maglio’s cinematography is well-crafted—creating a stark contrast between the depressing life of the metropolis and the idyllic Argentinian countryside. In the scenes set in Buenos Aries, the camera gets much more intimate, if not claustrophobic. An overwhelming sense of doom is also enhanced by the production design of the interiors—the canteen, the bank, and the hotel room where Román ends up living in for a bit—are dusty, unkempt, and dull. On the contrary, in the rural-set scenes the camera goes wider, indulges in long takes, and colors get brighter and more joyful.
Despite its evident flaws, The Delinquents is still a film worth watching—but perhaps in two parts and after taking a break in between, as suggested by Moreno himself. What continues to stand out, however, are its engaging premise, the cast’s heartfelt performances, the strength of some of its comedic characters, and some brilliant puns.
Read our exclusive interview with director Rodrigo Moreno here.